The Controversy Surrounding 'The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven' Just Took Another Turn

After being paralyzed in a 2004 car crash at the age of six, Alex Malarkey made headlines in 2010, when Christian publisher Tyndale House released an "autobiography," The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, attributing the story to Malarkey and his father, Kevin. According to the book, during the two months Malarkey spent comatose after the crash, he died and went to Heaven, where he met Jesus and heard the voice of God. He retracted the story in 2015, saying that it was a fabrication he created for attention, and Tyndale withdrew the bestselling book from publication. Now, the Boy Who Came Back from Heaven author is suing his publisher, saying that he was never consulted as to the authenticity of the story, and that he and his mother, Beth, have received no money from sales of the book.

The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven hit store shelves at a time when died-and-came-back narratives were all the rage among Christian publishers and booksellers. Another 2010 book, Todd Burpo's Heaven Is for Real, purported to tell the story of Burpo's son, Colton, who he claimed visited Heaven during a routine appendectomy. Many of these so-called Heaven Tourism books have been pulled from Christian bookstore shelves following condemnation from religious bodies.

Malarkey recanted his story in 2015, writing in an open letter on the Christian website Pulpit & Pen that, "I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to." His lawsuit, filed in DuPage County, Ill. on Apr. 9, makes seven charges against Tyndale, including the appropriation of Malarkey's name or likeness and the exploitation of him as a disabled person. The suit also claims that The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven "permanently and irreparably damaged Alex's Christian testimony," because he must admit to those who recognize his name that the story they read in the 2010 bestseller was untrue.

The lawsuit also claims that Tyndale House Publishers never paid Malarkey any money from the sales of the book or its tie-in documentary DVD, and that the company will not allow him to review information pertinent to the sales of the book unless he agrees that the contracts signed in its creation — contracts Malarkey says he has never seen — were legal and binding. Malarkey refuses to do so.